Mon, Sep 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US eyes December offensive in Iraq

PREPARATIONS New Iraqi forces will be ready within two months to fight alongside US troops in operations aimed at defeating insurgents in the city of Fallujah


Military officials view December as the optimal month for a US and Iraqi government offensive to reclaim the rebel enclave of Fallujah ahead of January national elections.

December is when Iraqi forces will come on line ready to participate in a full-fledged operation to take out Fallujah, considered the planning center for many of the spectacular car bombings that have plagued the country.

A security plan, drafted by the new Iraqi government and the top US General in Iraq, George Casey, calls for combined US and Iraqi security forces to claim back cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra that have swung out of their control.

The deadline is the January elections -- Iraq's first free polls in five decades -- which are in jeopardy amid the wave of bombings and assassinations. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has raised skepticism about the date.

"Fallujah will be tough and we've got to make a decision when the cancer of Fallujah needs to be cut out ... We would like to end December at local control across the country," one senior officer told reporters.

The deputy for training Iraqi security forces, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, told reporters that Iraqi forces still needed to gain more experience but that chances for victory would be high in December.

"It really depends on what level of risk the [Iraqi] leadership is prepared to take," Aylwin-Foster said.

"There will be a lot more security forces available by December. There will still be a level of risk, but there will be less risk than there is now because there will be more security forces."

But Aylwin-Foster stressed he did not know what the US and Iraqi leadership would decide was a proper number of Iraqi forces for an attack on Fallujah. Still, in December, roughly 7,200 men from nine elite intervention force battalions will be on line, with three of the units able to operate independently.

The intervention force has been designed specifically for fighting inside Iraq and is a by-product of April's failed US assault on Fallujah that saw Iraqi soldiers and national guard desert, unprepared to fight their countrymen.

The number of regular army battalions will have more than doubled to roughly 13,000 soldiers by December, with nine out of 16 battalions rated capable of independent action and trained for guerrilla warfare.

The interior ministry will also have a "civil intervention force," made up of police, ready in December to join any major fight, Aylwin-Foster added.

More than 40,000 national guardsmen would also be deployable for an offensive on rebel hotbeds.

The chairman of US joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, stressed on Sept. 7 a campaign to reclaim Fallujah would need an Iraqi face and said Iraqi forces would not be ready until December.

"By December, we're going to have a substantial number of Iraqi security forces equipped, trained and led to conduct the kind of operations I was talking about,"

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